And Lee Castleton wants names named
Forgive the delay in alerting you to a new Investigating the Post Office scandal podcast episode which “dropped” (as the cool kids say) on Wednesday. We were honoured to be joined by Varchas Patel, son of Vipin Patel, who was one of the first six Subpostmasters to have his conviction quashed in December 2020.
Varchas has become a friend over the past three years. He is also a diligent and hardworking trustee of the Horizon Scandal Fund charity. We chat about both of those things on our podcast, but my co-host Rebecca Thomson and I also get Varchas’ take on the evidence of Amandeep Singh, who spoke at the Inquiry on 7 March.
Mr Singh came across as a conscientious individual, troubled by his experience of working as a Fujitsu Horizon Helpline operator as an undergraduate in 2000. He was thoughtful about the racism he witnessed, not wishing to reference it just to put it on the record, but to explain how it contributed to the disaster.
He told the inquiry how racist attitudes blinded helpline operators as to the very real difficulties many Subpostmasters found themselves in, with their entire livelihoods (and as it turns out, their liberties and reputation) at the whim of a machine they could not properly operate or understand.
The stereotyping (eg “I have another Patel scamming again”) shouted across the Yorkshire call-centre floors became ingrained, stopping the operators from connecting on a human level with the distress of the individual Subpostmasters, with obvious consequences.
Varchas told us about his strong reaction to Mr Singh’s revelation, and you can hear what he has to say about it on our podcast here.
Again – apologies for only alerting you now. If you want to get every episode whilst they are still warm, subscribe or “follow” (as the uncool kids keep trying to make us say) Investigating the Post Office Scandal on Spotify or Apple Music.
Despite his many other responsibilities, Professor Richard Moorhead at Exeter University is building an impressive body of writing on the Post Office scandal. I am delighted he has decided to put himself to work on the Altman Review.
The Altman Review was written by one of the most pre-eminent criminal silks in the business – Brian Altman KC – and yet it is riddled with inconsistencies and basic failures of logic, which Moorhead calmly explains.
This is significant because it was the Altman Review which gave the Post Office the comfort it needed to continue covering up the miscarriages of justice it was directly responsible for.
Some context: in 2013 the barrister Simon Clarke produced a document which informed the Post Office it had a potentially serious problem with its prosecutions. Clarke advised “on the need to conduct a review of all POL [Post Office Ltd] prosecutions”. The Post Office took this to mean all Post Office prosecutions since 2010, an arbitrary cut-off date given the patina of plausibility by marking the launch of Horizon Online, a new version of the dreaded IT network.
In the Altman Review, Brian Altman seems to have considerable difficulty coming up with a coherent reason for the 2010 cut-off point, yet decides it is “logical, proportionate and practicable”.
In Altman III: Relying on the unreliable? Prof Moorhead systematically demolishes this idea. Yet it allowed the Post Office to decide not to examine the hundreds of prosecutions it undertook using Horizon evidence between 2000 and 2010.
Reading Moorhead’s post – particularly this morning’s Altman III made me feel like I was watching the mechanics of the cover-up whirr into motion in real time.
The award-winning Karl Flinders has done some more work on Lee Castleton’s case, which I think we are going to be hearing more about over the next few weeks. The evidence coming out of the Inquiry suggests that the Post Office was aware at the very highest levels of problems with the Horizon system and the need to crush any challenge to it in the courts.
Lee spoke about the Post Office’s decision to take him to court in 2007, telling Karl “I want the name of the person who decided to do this to be made public by the inquiry, because that person made terrible decisions that caused so many consequences to my family. I can’t tell you how painful the journey has been for the last 20 years.”
You can read Karl’s piece here.
I know my work on Johnny Depp is of minimal interest to some readers of this newsletter. I am also aware more than a few secret emailers were a wee bit distracted by last year’s trial in Virginia. I have had the privilege of being asked to write a book about the saga by Bath Publishing, who also published The Great Post Office Scandal.
I am beyond delighted to tell you that Depp v Heard: the unreal story has gone on worldwide pre-sale this week.
You can get it direct from the publisher (if you want to do that, and we’d be very grateful – the link is here), or you can buy it from Ian Amazon, who has it on at a discount already (how does he do it?).
Or buy it from Waterstones, who I am hoping will order it in large numbers and put it in their stores. It’s up on their website.
The book will be published on 17 May in ebook, kindle and paperback. I am hoping to have some news about an audiobook soon.
In writing Depp v Heard, I applied a similar methodology to the Post Office book. Be there in court. Get the documents and transcripts. Speak to as many people as possible on or off the record, and try to turn impossible volumes of information and misinformation into a coherent, readable, factually-accurate narrative. It’s a story which has a lot to say about the way (alleged) domestic abuse is dealt with in courts (in both the US and UK), defamation actions, expert witnesses, evidence and memory, the way the Hollywood media machine operates, movie star excess, the social media bearpit and dog-smuggling.
Enough of the sales pitch. I would love you to buy it, even if you think it might not be for you. I’m hoping I’ll be able to win you over in a few pages.
This all does mean that I will be spending a lot of time on promoting the book over the next few weeks and months. I currently have no real income to speak of and I need the book to earn back my advance before I will start to see any royalties, so getting the word out is the only way I’ve currently got of paying the mortgage.
I will try my level best to continue cracking on with what Post Office work I can do (and I’m very excited about a forthcoming BBC project), but please forgive me if my twitter feed and attention wanders.
There are plenty of excellent journalists, campaigners, activists, academics, lawyers and politicians doing their best to give this story the oxygen it still needs. I am in awe of the Subpostmasters’ stoicism in fighting for justice, and I think the lack of fair and equitable compensation many of them will receive will leave lasting psychological damage, shorten lives and leave a permanent stain on my understanding of what a good and moral society is supposed to be.
I don’t think I’ve become any more cynical over the course of this story, but I was relatively optimistic between 2019 and 2021 when Fraser’s judgments came through, the CPS was alerted, some convictions were quashed and hte subsequent Inquiry became statutory. It feels like a lot of that energy has drained away.
The Postmasters I speak to just want it to be over, which the Post Office and government lawyers know they can exploit when it comes to negotiating compensation claims.
At least we have the prospect of seeing some of the former Post Office big guns (and Altman Himself?) on oath later in the year, when I’m sure things will pick up again.
Right – the rugby’s underway. I’ll say goodbye.